<
>

Bacher's mobility a must for Wildcats offense

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

No statistic serves as a better gauge for Northwestern than quarterback C.J. Bacher's interceptions total. Since Bacher became the starter in 2006, the Wildcats are 11-0 when he throws fewer than two interceptions and 3-10 when he has two or more picks.

Ball security is paramount for Bacher, but so is his ability to run.

Northwestern's offense, like many versions of the spread, needs the quarterback to run the ball effectively. The Wildcats' spread originated in part from the system Rich Rodriguez used at Clemson, and we know how much RichRod likes mobile quarterbacks.

Since installing the spread in 2000, Northwestern has asked its quarterbacks to make plays with their feet. Zak Kustok stepped up, Brett Basanez stepped up and the same must happen with Bacher.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald knows this, and that's why Bacher will continue to be an integral part of the rushing attack.

"We're going to run the quarterback," Fitzgerald told reporters this week. "That's part of being in the spread offense. If you don't run the quarterback, you're kind of sitting in second gear. That doesn't mean we're going to run him 78 times, but we'll take what the defense gives us."

The Chicago Sun-Times' Jim O'Donnell writes that there are risks and rewards to running Bacher during games.

"With Tyrell Sutton sidelined, Bacher's daring fourth-quarter runs preserved a 16-8 victory over Ohio. At Iowa, he personally cleat-started a critical touchdown drive late in the first half.

But for a lithe Californian whose golden right wing could lead the Wildcats to postseason horizons almost unimaginable two months ago, the question of risk/reward every time Bacher takes off running undoubtedly looms large in the mind of the more sophisticated NU football fan."

That's true, but it's a greater risk for Bacher to be hesitant about running. He has had trouble forcing throws and passing off his back foot, leading to interceptions. It's important for him to recognize pressure and make plays with his feet when he can.

Bacher seemed much more willing to run last week against Purdue, rushing for 41 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He executed the option well with Sutton and the Wildcats' offense had by far its best performance of the season.

The injury risk is always there, but the bigger gamble for Bacher would be sitting back in the pocket when rushing lanes are there for the taking.